At David Cameron’s final Prime Minister’s Questions, a Labour MP asked him how his plan to get the Tories to ‘stop banging on about Europe’ was going. The chamber erupted in laughter and Cameron gave a rather sheepish response. Afterwards, one of those who had prepared Cameron for PMQs wondered whether he should have given a more robust answer. Surely, he argued, the party would stop banging on about Europe now that the referendum had settled the question.
Ever since America elected Donald Trump, Democrats have fantasised about removing him from power. They’ve dreamed of impeaching him; of declaring him insane; of arresting him and parking tanks on the White House lawn. They’ve even thought about assassinating him. If you think that is an exaggeration, look up Kathy Griffin, the feminist comedian, who held up a severed Trump head, Isis-style.
The most important point about the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement is that, once it is ratified, the United Kingdom will have no legal route out of it unless the EU agrees to let us out and replace it with another agreement. This makes it unique among trade treaties (including the EU’s), which always contain clauses allowing each party to withdraw on notice. Politicians who claim that this is just a bad treaty — one we can get out of later — are being ignorant or disingenuous.
Did any of us, whatever our opinions, expect the level of blustering indignation that has emerged since the 2016 referendum? It seems to be reaching ever new heights — or depths — of invective and reciprocal disdain. On one side, ‘fantasists, crackpots, dunderheads… jabbering braggarts’ (as a Telegraph columnist described Leave MPs last week). On the other, a gaggle of ‘enemies of the people’, cowards and time-servers.
One thing I love about my adopted country is the widespread cultural contempt for dullness. Unlike North Americans, intelligent British people rarely drone on in a witless or self-aggrandising manner. They deflect, make jokes and generally aim to please. But there is one boring subject no one here ever seems to tire of and that is schooling.
‘So where do your kids go?’ I’ve learned is just as loaded and inescapable a London dinner party question as ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Where are you on Brexit?’
If you choose private, you’d better have a plausible explanation (e.
How did we get into this Brexit mess? Why is it proving so difficult to leave the EU? Was it Theresa May’s botched 2017 election, which vaporised her Commons majority? Or perhaps her general incompetence and lack of vision?
How about the fierce determination of Europhile civil servants to save stupid Leave voters from themselves, cooking up a half-in-half-out withdrawal guaranteed to split the Tories?
Maybe it was the cynical ambivalence of HM’s Opposition, with Labour simultaneously backing both Brexit and a second referendum, having always intended to cause chaos and spark a general election by voting down the UK’s exit, contradicting its own manifesto? Then there’s the relentless big business lobbying, with corporate vested interests determined to keep Britain behind the EU’s protectionist wall and smaller rivals ensnared in Brussels’s red tape.
A new play, Switzerland, which opened in the West End this month, seems to have demonised Patricia Highsmith once again. I cannot quarrel with the overall impression given by the diligently researched biography by Andrew Wilson, but merely say that as one who knew and liked her over many years, the picture seems unfairly partial.
We met for the first time in Florence in October 1952; I was 21, she 31.